The Publisher Demands | By: Brian Cross | | Category: Short Story - Dramatizing Bookmark and Share

The Publisher Demands


                The Publisher Demands


     Todd Butchers had a split personality, more than that he lived two lives; a shy, retiring type most of the time but his other self was vindictive, volatile, aggressive – in fact he possessed the makings of an unmitigated killer -

     John Bunting slammed his hand on the keyboard, slurped his fourth cup of coffee, he’d reached a crucial part of his story when suddenly Mrs Doubleday his cleaner had marched in muttering something about frogs and tadpoles.

     It didn’t fit in somehow and now crucially his chain of thought was broken, even more so now she’d commenced the habitual nose blowing ceremony.

     And then the phone rang to compound his frustration, ‘John Bunting – yes – who’s calling? You’ve found what? I’m sorry but that’s impossible, you see my wife’s in Cornwall.

     ‘You’re certain –‘ Bunting slapped a hand across his face then glanced at the clock, ‘okay,’ he sighed, ‘I’ll call and collect it.’

     It was enough to suffer Mrs Doubleday’s distractions, now he had to contend with some numbskull who reckoned he’d found his wife’s handbag in a pub ten miles away. Well, it was April 1st; if he found some prankster was wasting his time there’d be hell to pay. His publisher was pressing him

hard to complete a collection of short stories, if he failed to deliver this week the deal would be quashed.

     And who did he know who’d play a practical joke?


     Fifteen minutes later Bunting pulled up at “The White Duck” in Micklewater and hurried into a sparsely populated pub, the landlord of which greeted him with reverence.

     ‘John Bunting the writer sir? I read your –

      ‘Yes, yes, Bunting waved impatiently, I find this very difficult to believe but you claim to have found my wife’s handbag.’

     ‘I didn’t find it; she left it on the seat over there. One of my staff-’

     But Bunting wasn’t listening, his frenzied fingers were flicking through the contents – it was her handbag alright, had to be – her credit cards, business cards – but she’d phoned him from Cornwall only the previous evening, wasn’t due back for a week.

     ‘Did you see her, what did she look like?’

     ‘Oh, quite tall, long dark hair, wearing a white trouser suit.’

     ‘White trouser suit,’ Bunting repeated, it was one of her favourites.

     ‘A dimple in her left cheek,’ the landlord added. He’d certainly studied her well and yeah – it was her to a tee. What the hell was going on? 

     ‘Did you see which way she went?’

     ‘I didn’t see her leave, Mr. Bunting,’ the landlord said, but by the look on his face Bunting thought there was something else.

     ‘She wasn’t alone?’

     ‘No, there was a guy with her.’

     Bunting fingered his neck, it was becoming clammy, what was she up to? His inclination was to go; although the pub’s customers seemed not to be listening he felt part of a soap opera. Nonetheless he stayed and ordered a pint. Margie might just show up for her handbag with the mystery companion.

     Resisting the urge to gulp his pint Bunting sat by the window concentrating on the quiet village street, but Margie didn’t show. Surely she had to realise she’d left her bag and retrace her steps? Well, if so, it was taking some time.

     More time than he was prepared to give; his nerves close to snapping, Bunting downed the last of his pint and made for the door.

     He sat in his car, re-checking the contents of her bag, pulling out a scrap of paper the size of a business card, “Orchard Cottage, Railway Approach, Micklewater.”

     What the hell was that about? But the notepaper bearing his wife’s bold handwriting intrigued him. Railway Approach wouldn’t be hard to find – he wasn’t well acquainted with Micklewater, but he knew the long disused station had been acquired by a steam railway preservation society and lay off the main street.

     Sure enough, off a leafy lane lay Station Approach. The station lay at the end, an impressive Edwardian building, but to its right surrounded by apple trees was Orchard Cottage. He pulled up some distance from it, where the lane parted company with the approach.

     Two four-by-fours were parked outside, one was clearly Margie’s and the other was familiar although he couldn’t determine the owner. Not until the burly shape of his publisher, Tim Harrison-Clarke emerged holding Margie’s hand. Now Bunting saw what was going on, what might have been going on for years. He roared up, saw the shocked look on the pair’s faces and then shaking with barely containable anger he handed over her bag. ‘You might want this. You left it at the pub.’

     Tim Harrison-Clarke brushed the lapels of his well-pressed suit, ‘Er John, I was just showing your wife around this lovely cottage; weren’t you supposed to be working on your compilation? Time is short, you know.’

   ‘It sure is,’ Bunting growled, eyes on his wife, ‘weren’t you supposed to be in Cornwall?’

     Margie sighed, looked him in the eye, full of defiance, ‘I was in Cornwall - if you must know we both were. And you may as well know John, that Tim and I are an item. We’ve had our eye on this place for some time. We came back from Cornwall when we heard it was vacant.’

     ‘And that’s why you set me so tight a deadline, and not for the first time,’ Bunting said to Harrison-Clarke through clenched teeth, ‘so the pair of you had space to-‘

     Tim raised a hand, ‘John wait-‘

     But Bunting wasn’t waiting, he felt like thumping the pair of them both there and then, but that wouldn’t have been a painful enough ending.

     Back home Bunting’s cleaner had finished and gone. Only the ticking of the clock disturbed Bunting as he worked on his piece -

     Todd Butchers had a split personality, more than that he lived two lives; a shy retiring type most of the time

but his other self was vindictive, volatile, aggressive – as the stabbings in Orchard Cottage were to testify…

     Bunting took the machete from his drawer, caressed the blade carefully with the tip of his finger –

     So he’d need to find a new publisher, who gave a damn?


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